those infinite fictions
A few months ago, i skyped with Anthony Moll, founder and fellow-editor of Industry Night. He’s out on the west coast pursuing a PhD in creative writing, and it had been a while since we’d had more than a passing facebook or twitter conversation. Which is understandable: he’s been busy getting to know a new city, a new campus, new classes that he’s both teaching and taking. And he’s also had to read. A lot. So it wasn’t surprising that our conversation turned to all of the books he’d read in the last few weeks, both for class and for pleasure (though, how he’s had time to read for fun absolutely astounds me). One of the books we spent more than a little time discussing was Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism, by Trinh T. Minh-ha. The book, Anthony told me, laid out a rather radical view that History, something often presented as objective and “what actually happened,” should be viewed as a fiction, since History has authors and is subject to the experiences, beliefs, and biases of said authors, and is therefore, at best, something that leads us to Truth, and not Truth itself. Thus, History is removed from a place of authority/power/hierarchy and placed back in the wide, flat field of stories that ultimately reveal, more or less, how we see the world.
And that brought to mind two of my favorite classes from undergrad: Russian History I and Russian History II, both taught by Dr. Chet Rzadkiewicz. Dr. Chet taught the classes not as a practice in learn-these-dates-and-regurgitate-them-back-to-me, but as a means to see and understand the connections between events. The most important thing for Dr. Chet when dealing with History was the why, and in order to really understand why something happened, you need to be cognizant of all of the circumstances by which that thing occurred, and then locate and understand the circumstances by which THOSE circumstances occurred, and so on. It very quickly turns into a web-like infinite regression…or some sort of human-events fractal. But, his classes taught me that History is not a single thing; History is built up piecewise out of many smaller histories, which in turn contain myriad personal stories and experiences that are all connected. Every single one of them is somehow connected…
Which then brought to mind a quote i saw on Tumblr and only half-remember; i tried finding it for the sake of this post, but it’s lost out there in one of the infinite tubes of the internet. Anyway, the quote said something to the effect of: the most important thing a writer does is make connections. And nowhere is that more apparent and apt than in poetry. Poetry for me is, among other things, an exercise in making connections. I mean, two of the tools that poets most often employ (simile and metaphor) essentially equate two unlike things. More than that, though, i think that witnessing how someone makes connections is possibly one of the most revelatory acts, because from there, you can not only understand how that person thinks, but ultimately understand that they are a totally unique individual. Jane Hirshfield doesn’t write like Mary Oliver because Hirshfield see things and makes connections differently than Olvier; i don’t write like any of the poets i graduated with because i see things and make connections differently than they do. When i finally realized that, the literary world suddenly gained a great deal of breathing room.
And in a fitting full-circle, we then arrived at Homer/a time when history was related through verse and all of the great historians were first and foremost great story tellers regaling us with all of the stories, all of the little truths of what’s happened in our universe. If anything, Truth is the sum of those infinite fictions, but then again, that could just be how i see things.